I was barely fifteen when I bought my first set of weights. My best buddy and I lugged the 110-pound set uphill for the twenty-plus blocks from the sporting goods store to my parent's basement. Back then pumping iron was reserved for bodybuilders and others at the extreme end of the exercise spectrum. But there were a dedicated few of us that found out just how far a little bit of weight lifting could take you.
Today things have surely changed! The popularity of weight training has soared. We've discovered that if not taken to an extreme level, lifting weights, or "strength training" is one of the healthiest, most fat-burning and body transforming fitness systems you can apply.
This article is not about bashing cardio, as aerobic exercise is a useful adjunct in the fight against fat, but in a slower, more drawn out format (See Related Article). But it is about breaking down the barriers that prevent many more individuals from sharing in the benefits of the most phenomenal approach to health, fitness, and weight loss known to man (and woman) -strength training.
In this new millennium, most fitness experts and exercise physiologists agree, a properly executed strength or weight lifting routine can do the following:
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar
- Increase bone density, strength, endurance, speed and flexibility
- Reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer
- Induce weight loss, tone muscles and create a more youthful appearance
- Increase strength, endurance and agility
This list goes on. And while you're deciding if strength training is right for you, here's a tidbit of information that may encourage you to partake - 20 or 30 minutes, two to four times per week. That's the time it takes to do ALL of the exercises necessary to share in the above benefits, including the transformation of your entire body. But there are guidelines that need to be followed to keep your program not only effective but also safe. An early injury will sideline you before you get a chance to see any real results.
The 5 Golden Rules of Strength Training
Rule One: Apply Perfect Form
Strict adherence to perfect form is absolutely crucial with any strength or weight lifting program. Be sure you get instruction from a reliable source (book, tape or trainer) and follow it to the letter. Always move slowly through your full range of motion with every exercise, and don't allow speed and / or momentum to help you complete a lift in a haphazard or jerky manner. Stay in control of the movement as you go through it smoothly and deliberately, utilizing proper breathing techniques.
Be aware of speed and tempo. The part of the lift where you move the resistance against gravity is defined as the positive phase, and when lowered with gravity the term negative phase is used. Keep the negative phase (a slow count of four) twice as long as the positive (a slow count of two). You can opt to move even more slowly (up to twice as long on both phases), as a way to intensify the set without adding resistance.
Rule Two: Proper Intensity
Applying the right amount of intensity to every set will speed progress, including muscle development and fat loss. Regardless of how much resistance you're working against, or how many sets and repetitions you do (see rule number three), ALWAYS work to some level of muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue is defined as the point in the set when you experience some local discomfort or slight pain in the targeted muscle group.
You needn't take the "no pain no gain" philosophy to the extreme, but you do need to feel a substantial burn to get real results. Lactic acid is the byproduct of anaerobic exercise, and it's what causes that burning sensation in your muscles when you near the end of a set. Don't sacrifice perfect form or attempt to lift or go beyond a resistance level you can safely handle just to get that lactic acid burn. Quite to the contrary, adherence to perfect form will bring upon muscle fatigue and associated burn much faster, and with a reduced risk of injury or mishap.